The Europa League has arrived and what better way to celebrate the NIT of world football then to discuss if anyone actually cares about it. Entering Spurs' fifth consecutive year in the competition, our involvement has always seemed an encumbrance to both the Tottenham faithful and the players themselves. The bronze medal in a seven person swim race at the local pool or a top five finish in your fifth grade's thrice annual spelling bee; it is an achievement that has been accomplished but is it really celebrated? When gauging Spurs supporters' level of excitement concerning the Europa League, their responses are quite similar to the likely answers given by the children in the above scenarios: "Kind of? Maybe? I guess?".
Harry Redknapp abhorred it, Andre Villas-Boas proffered a dash of importance to it, and Pochettino seems a mixed bag with it, dismissing the competition as a distraction but also starting first eleven players in its matches. From a fan perspective, the Europa League elicits strong opinion. Some wax poetically on the grandeur of a proper European night, while others scapegoat it as the ruin to our Premier League fortunes. Hugo Lloris, our captain, had this to say about the Europa League:
"I think European competition is always important when you are a player," he said.
"Each game is important and we know tomorrow we need a first win because the next two games are away against very good teams in Anderlecht and Monaco.
"We expect a tough game because European competition is always hard so we need to be focused and have the mentality of winning.
"I expect more from Tottenham and I expect more from me as well. We need to go as far as possible in the competition.
"We know what is expected from the manager and what we have to do. We need to be 100 per cent focused for Tottenham.
"We know it is a trophy to get and you play only to win. There is also a possibility to get to the Champions League if you go to the final and win the final. It is so far away that we are focused on the group stage and the target is to finish first."
Much of this quote is robot athlete blather, but this is the second time in Tottenham's young season where Hugo has referenced the worthiness of the Europa League. Is it time for supporters to view the competition in a more positive light as well? With an automatic bid to the Champions League at stake, and the potential for England's Champions League spots to be reduced from four to three due to the contest's recent restructuring, there is a huge incentive for Spurs to do well. While the former of those carrots has been dangled to Tottenham before, the latter is a new edict. Most sober supporters would say that Tottenham finishing fourth is a big, if unrealistic, ask. Yet finishing third — well, that seems a bit crazy even to a diehard pounding through their fifth stein. In fact, just as Obi-Wan Kenobi was the only hope for the Rebel cause, so might the Europa League be to Spurs' Champions League aspirations.
So how should Spurs treat the competition? I have broken down four potential approaches below:
- I am Harry Redknapp. I speak to reporters through my car window on deadline day. I could give a s**t about Europa League.
- Our team is young and talented, give them the competition! Whether they win or lose is no matter, they deserve the opportunity to play and progress.
- Mix youth with first team regulars to get us to the knock-out rounds. When in the knock-out round play as many studs as possible without sacrificing our weekend chances in the Premier League. PL always takes precedence over EL!
- Do whatever it takes to get through the group stage. Prioritize the knock-rounds as if they were the equivalent of Champions League fixtures. RIDE OR DIE.
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